Where do you get your ideas?......is a question every writer gets asked. Some writers will come up with a wise-guy answer (Harlan Ellison always used to say, “Schenectady!”). Some writers may say ideas pop up while they're doing research for other projects. Others may say they just sit down at the computer and wait for ideas to show up out of the blue (believe it or not, that works sometimes).
I can honestly say that a lot of my ideas come from dreams. I don't want to give you the idea that I always go to sleep and dream an entire novel – those sorts of lucid dreams are rare (though I have had them from time to time). Usually the dreams I have that inspire books are just bits and pieces: interesting characters, odd settings, situations that spark my imagination.
Once an idea has caught my fancy, I entertain myself with it. This is actually how I evolved into a writer – I told myself stories. I would amuse myself with them while I was standing in line, or vacuuming, or just trying to get through my school and/or work day. If those stories grow during that process, they eventually get to the point where I feel I can take them to the next step. The characters come to life in my head and I'll start hammering scenes together.
Sounds great, doesn't it? And it is, at this stage. It's heady stuff to be visited by interesting characters bearing tales of fascinating places. Many writers never evolve past this stage, because it's the fun one, the happy one, the one you get to enjoy before you have to get out your pick and shovel and get down to the hard work. The momentum from this stage can sometimes get you about one-third of the way through the story before you get stuck and have to do the hard work of keeping it going. This is that “sit down at the typewriter and wait for ideas to show up” stage, and different writers have different ways of getting through it.
For me, it's mostly a matter of thinking about my characters and asking myself questions about them. But this is a real challenge, because something else can happen to writers at this stage that can really delay the completion of a particular project. Another idea shows up.
Yes friends, the fun part pops up again and dazzles you with a new idea. It's way more interesting and attractive than the one you were just working on. And the problem is, the more you write, the better these ideas are. It's like you've built a writing machine in your head – it runs more efficiently every time you write a book, and IT'S ALWAYS ON. Sometimes these new ideas look so good to me, I can't make progress on a current project until I jot some notes about them. I've gotten to be pretty good at scribbling those notes. For a long time, this seemed like a good solution to the pop-up idea problem. And then I took a good look at my Works-In-Progress file in my laptop.
There are over forty files in there. I can't give you the exact number, because counting them was kind of depressing. Many of them are literally just a few sentences. Some are several pages long, and some are two or three sample chapters. I've got at least four books that are about halfway complete, and they are at the top of my list of priorities for new projects. But I have many more that are too sketchy to finish, yet too substantial to ignore.
Messy closets are embarrassing, and that's true even if they're idea closets. There may be some real gems in there, but how can you tell, when they're all jumbled up with half-baked ideas and (possibly) silly notions? Yet I keep going back to that closet, digging for those ideas. And I keep tossing new ones in there. If you work long enough on a book, it starts to gather momentum again, and the fun part comes back. I just have to have faith in that.
So that's where I get my ideas. But I hope you'll forgive me if I keep that door tightly shut in between times. Because it's REALLY messy in there, and it's getting more crowded all the time . . .